(The Bronx, 195-)
Three rooms: a dark section of hive.
A father with a shepherd’s crook of flame.
A mother like a flame. A grandmother,
a throne for you to sit in. Her missing fingers,
gulped by a factory. Blood and screaming?
A humming. A keyhole, spices in the darkness.
How old were you when you saw your first star?
A real one, a little white stab of light,
not jig-cut balsa painted gold and straddling
the roof of the crèche, donkeys and cows nudging
closer to the manger with their graphite
snouts. How old when you saw a cow?
You had fire bells in the night, a neighbor
breathing in an iron lung, your little black vest
with its hundred ribbons for marching
in the parade, a doll stumbling the room
on long nude legs. You had a mouth full of ash.
Dark infanta, cramped and scowling, escaping
in your newspaper boat night after night
down a ticking creek of clear seconds.
The nuns sailed overhead in their dark tents,
their shoes hanging out like tongues
or the clappers of bells. You always knew
they were witches. You always knew
there was more, more than the Indians
in their soundless museum canoe,
more than roller skate keys and tin can stoves,
more than your cousin with a scalpful of gold,
curls sprung like pig’s tails. You were always
leaving it, the apartment, half-lit comb of honey:
it grew smaller and smaller in your chest,
a saint’s medal, a set model, compass
of onyx, the face of an ikon dark under soot.
(for my mother)